The tried and tested

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
As the content market grows, poor products will emerge alongside the good ones. Jack Kenny urges caution in your spending

There is a tendency when someone unexpectedly gives you money with a specific aim, like learning credits, to spend it with less care than you normally would because it feels like a bonus. Take care. Think. In the era we are moving towards, there will be more software on offer than ever, but some of it will be dross. Initially, the best advice is to go to the tried and trusted.

SPA has a track record. I recently met a headteacher raving about SPA Story Maker software. The Story Maker package (pound;39 single user licence) is about making animated speaking and "sounding" stories - not just "book" pages. You can make a story where figures move across the screen, appear and disappear, cause other things to happen. Aimed at the primary school, this is easy to use and well worth a look.

Something you must see is a demonstration of the new Tablet PC from RM (pound;799). No keyboard, so no keyboarding. Is it the way forward? You will have to decide. What it does is bring handwriting back. And it could be the computer to bring reluctant colleagues into the ICT arena. The handwriting recognition is good. Once it has recognised your words it can turn them into typed script. Even if you don't convert your text, you can search your handwriting. It has the full range of Microsoft Office software and you can even download and edit video.

Trevor Millum of Resource is also a trusted producer of quality software and the excellent English and literacy packages produced by Resource grow each year. I Can Write (pound;39 single user) is about using frameworks for writing for key stages 1 and 2 and deals especially with genres. I Can Spell (pound;39 single user) is a carefully organised spelling tutor and well worth investing in. Sherlock (pound;29.95 single user) is a wide-ranging program. You can hide a text within the program and then, by careful detective work, the user can uncover it. Millum claims it will span a wide ability gap - "infant to A-level" - because it is content free.

Content-free programs or tools are always good buys. Matchware (price TBA), HyperStudio (pound;99.95) and Media Blender (pound;39.95 annual subscription) are all reissued in new versions and are available from TAG Learning. These programs are easy to overlook, but it could be argued that creating resources with these excellent products is one of the best ways of learning. They assist students and teachers to bring together sound, graphics and text and all work well with whiteboards.

Digital video made news at last year's BETT show. It continues to be worth considering. There are four possibilities for teachers - go to Apple, RM or Viglen, or adapt one of your PCs by buying Pinnacle DV8 (pound;99.99), which has all that you need (see review page 58).

I am still meeting people who do not know the Macbeth disc from 4Learning (pound;47). Check it out at its stand - you might not approve of the updating, your students will.

RM has had great success with Easiteach Maths. It is going to be interesting to see whether it can repeat that with Easiteach Literacy. It will have three main elements: literacy texts, literacy tools and literacy activities. One feature that should be attractive is "Big Edit". This will use the power of the whiteboard to highlight editing. It is priced at pound;279 for the first user, with extra users at pound;89 each. A content service is also available at pound;150 for an annual site licence.

The Skills Factory's Literacy and Numeracy Complete (from pound;35 per user per year) is one of the success stories of recent times. This excellent tool, now called Curriculum Complete, claims to make planning easier and less time-consuming. They say marriages have been saved, stress averted. The equivalent software for key stage 3, Literacy Complete and Numeracy Complete, could be just as successful as the primary has been.

Becta's latest offering for visual arts is a free CD, which you should be able to pick up from its stands (C30, X40). Compiled as a result of the BectaApple digital video pilot, the CD gives some very useful insights into how schools have used the software and hardware. The best part of the CD shows examples of work from the schools. Look at the sci-fi film produced by one special needs school and wonder.

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